US President Barack Obama announced a series of reforms to the country’s surveillance practices on Friday at his first full press conference in nearly three months. The actions the US administration is taking are many and there’s still a lot that’s up in the air. One thing’s for sure, though. Obama does not think Edward Snowden deserves any credit.
The major thrust of the US president’s new plan includes reviewing how the system currently works and reforming it. This is good! Obama plans to start with section 215 of the Patriot Act which gives the US government broader authority to access so-called “metadata” like phone records. The president also plans to work with Congress to reform how the secret courts set up by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act work. The broad strokes of that plan include introducing an “adversarial” (read: privacy-defending) party into the proceedings.
The reforms should also have a macroscopic effect. In addition to these specific reforms, Obama says he’s calling for more transparency from folks like the US Justice Department and the intelligence community. He’s also setting up a group of outside experts to review the country’s surveillance efforts. “Given the history of abuse by governments, it’s right to ask questions about surveillance, particularly as technology is reshaping every aspect of our lives,” Obama said. “It’s not enough for me as president to have confidence in these programs. The American people need to have confidence in them, as well.”
Speaking of the American people, there’s one citizen who just won’t go away: Edward Snowden. After Obama’s initial statement, NBC News’ chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd jumped up with a question about the US president’s opinion of the whistleblower who remains in Russia, where he’s sought political asylum and remains wanted for three felonies in this country. Todd made the point that a lot of these reforms come after Snowden leaked documents detailing the NSA overzealous surveillance programs, an act that many people believe to be highly patriotic. Not the president, who said unequivocally, “No, I don’t think Mr Snowden was a patriot.”
Well, whether Obama likes it or not, history will be the judge of whether Edward Snowden is a hero or a villain and if public opinion is any guide, it sure is looking like the former is more likely. But that doesn’t mean Obama’s the villain! The US president says that these reforms were all planned well before Snowden’s leak. And if the leak hadn’t happened, we would’ve ended up in the same place, he said.